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Spring Bank, the last Ferry on the Red River

The Spring Bank Ferry's last day, recorded by the Arkansas Department of Transportation in 1995 (ADOT).

Deep southwestern Arkansas is the heavily-forested, bayou-laden, and cotton-growing area of southern Miller and Lafayette counties,where the Sulphur River drains into the Red River. The roads tend to be narrow and run north and south, not east to west. It is a lonely place, with farms and oxbow lakes taking up more room than people.

The area used to be much more heavily traveled. Along the banks of the river were Caddoan villages with their mounds, fields, and trading paths. After the Louisiana Purchase, the Sulphur River Indian Factory, which sat at the mouth of the Sulphur River just above Spring Bank, monitored the Caddos as they gave up their lands to Americans. By the 1830s, several plantations had established landings on the Red River. LaGrange, the first seat of Lafayette County, sat on the east bank of the river, not far from Walnut Hill Plantation, the home of the first governor of Arkansas, James Sevier Conway (1836-1840). By the late 19th century, miners dug for coal just north of Doddrige in the aptly-named town of Black Diamond.

But for some reason, the state was reluctant to build a bridge across the Red River here. Locals traveling on AR 160 to and from Doddridge had to take the Spring Bank Ferry across the Red River.

The Spring Bank ferry over the Red River was unique, as the Blanton family operated it for over a hundred years, from 1836 until 1957. The state took over thereafter, and spent at least $500,000 a year maintaining it. The Red River's undercurrent could threaten the ferry operation, and other obstacles like high and low water sometimes made it inoperable. Whenever the ferry went out of commission, travelers had to make an almost 60 mile detour to Garland City. Finally, in 1995, the state gave the go-ahead to build a bridge and retired the ferry. The ferry boat, which was built in the 1960s and the last ferry to cross the Red River of the Southwest, now sits inside a lovely park in the quiet town of Doddridge.

Ferry boat
The little ferry that could, and did, for over thirty years!

Instead of water, the Spring Bank ferry is surrounded by grass in a park in Doddridge, Arkansas.

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